Uniform 07.06.2014: A Choice that Blesses Others

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

It’s my body. I can do what I want with it. I can eat what I want, exercise or not, give myself sexually if I desire, and get drunk or smoke if I want to. It’s my body. What I do with it is my choice.

It’s tough to find a balance between honoring our free will to make choices for ourselves and taking responsibility for how each choice might affect another person. Especially in the United States, we take pride in independence and self-sufficiency. We’re individuals. We have the power to choose what we do and do not do. And sometimes we don’t realize (or we refuse to consider) how our individual choices stretch out and touch others. When our choices aren’t positive, the results can be terribly harmful.

We tend to think that finding this balance is a modern problem, but it’s been going on for ages. Paul spent lots of words explaining his struggles to his readers—and telling them that their choices should be based on something more than their own appetites.

• “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom 7:15)
• “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16)
• “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor 12:26-27)
• “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:4-7)

A recent Reuters Africa article gave a heart-wrenching report on the group of schoolgirls who were kidnapped in Nigeria on April 14: “almost none had been freed after the initial kidnapping some girls escaped from. …219 girls remained at large.” This sobering case is a prime example of what happens when one group makes a choice based on personal desires. These young girls were likely taken to be sold into sexual slavery. The people who took them gained the money from their sale; those who bought them had their physical desires satisfied. The girls had no choice.

For centuries, the misuse of sexuality has caused some of the greatest harm: shattered self-esteem, broken marriages, devalued individuals, destroyed bodies, cheap replacements for love. And it all comes down to individual choice. In today’s lesson text, Paul affirms the common thought in his day and in ours: “I can do whatever I want” (1 Cor 6:12). But, as followers of Christ—indeed, as responsible human beings capable of making choices that help instead of hurt—we are urged to go a step farther: “I can do whatever I want, but not everything I want to do is good for my community” (v. 12).

Sure, we can choose to satisfy our desires. We can choose to look to our personal interests above and beyond those of anyone else. We can choose to do what feels good. It’s my body. I can do what I want with it. But we are called to something much higher. We are called to take the freedom to do what we want and use it to bless others. The choice isn’t easy every time. Sometimes it isn’t even clear. Seeking the path of Christ, however, will always uplift other people. In the process, we might just be uplifted ourselves.

Source: Felix Onuah, “Nigeria Wraps Up Kidnap Investigation with 200 Girls Still Missing,” Reuters Africa, 20 June 2014, http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKBN0EV1C420140620 (accessed 23 June 2014).

Discussion

1. What is the balance between a person’s free will to choose and a person’s responsibility to be the best human being that he or she can be?
2. What kind of choice do you think causes the most harm in the world today? What might the solution be?
3. Why do you think sexual sin has always been such a big problem? Why does the Bible mention it so frequently? What does God think about it?
4. What does it mean to be faithful? What does it cost? What is its reward?
5. How can the small decisions you make every day find their way into another person’s life—for good or for evil? What power do you have to make a choice that blesses others?

Reference Shelf

Most commentators take the statement “All things are permitted for me” (panta moi exestin) as a Corinthian slogan that Paul quotes and qualifies both in 6:12 and later in 10:23. Many interpreters also see the origin of the slogan in the discussions of Greek and Roman philosophers, especially the Stoics, regarding freedom and the limits of what is permissible. One did not have to be a student of any particular school of philosophy to have some awareness of their basic ideas since they were widely dispensed through public oratory and by “street teachers” such as the Cynics. Kernels of philosophical teaching, especially pertaining to ethics, were encapsulated also in aphorisms, many of which were engraved in inscriptions. If the Corinthian church included sophistic teachers, as has been argued earlier, then they may well have included such aphorisms in their teaching. In philosophical discussions regarding freedom and its limits, those powerful persons who “did as they pleased” were typically contrasted negatively with the virtuous wise person who exercised restraint. If Corinthian believers were using such a slogan, however, it was intended not as a sign of virtuous restraint but of freedom to engage in certain behaviors that convention considered to be prohibited.

Some interpreters think the slogan, or at least some version of it, originated with Paul himself in his preaching about freedom in Christ. According to some, Paul had taught that Gentile believers were free from the Jewish law. In his absence, some in the Corinthian church expanded the range of this freedom-principle to include other non-Jewish laws and conventions. Thus, they were asserting their “God-given” right to flaunt certain moral prescriptions. Or perhaps, Paul’s message of freedom from sin had become distorted to the point that some persons believed that they were free to sin without consequences. Another possibility is that the statement is not actually one used by the Corinthians or by Paul in his earlier preaching but rather one that Paul has composed in this letter to counter the Corinthian perspective that has led them to take immorality so lightly. The fact that Paul does not flatly repudiate the slogan but rather qualifies it in both 6:12 and 10:23 lends support to the idea that Paul had articulated some version of it in his preaching.

Whatever the source of the slogan, it enables Paul to move from his reminder that the Corinthians have been transformed into new persons (6:11) to his repudiation of their attitude regarding the inconsequential nature of immoral behavior. Even if “all things are permitted for me,” he asserts, “not all things benefit (sympherei).” Margaret Mitchell has shown that in deliberative rhetorical arguments, one sought to demonstrate how one course of action was to the advantage (to sympheron) of the audience while others were not. Paul, here, appeals to what is beneficial. In 10:23, he will repeat this appeal and add another to that which builds up. The thrust of his appeal here is a call to a way of life that proves beneficial to the church. Liberty, especially the liberty that Paul affirms for himself and the Corinthians in Christ, must be tempered by the memory that this liberty has come through great cost (6:20). Paul’s word of the cross lies in the background here as he pleads for a lifestyle that is rooted in the principle of giving up one’s liberty or right for a larger good. Those who exercise their liberty without “cross-guided” constraint, furthermore, risk losing their liberty. Thus, he repeats the slogan, “All things are permitted for me,” but adds, “I will not be dominated (exousiasthesomai) by anything.”

For Paul, the danger of domination that can occur through unconstrained exercising of one’s liberty is especially acute in matters pertaining to the body. Thus, he quotes another slogan that seems to have been used by the Corinthians to support their idea that indulging the needs of the body without constraint was normal: “Food [is meant] for the stomach, and the stomach [is meant] for food” (6:13a). In chapters 8–10 Paul will take up the matter of food and will also argue for constraint in doing “what is permitted.” Here, however, the point of the slogan seems to pertain not specifically to food but rather to indulging the body, especially in regard to sexual behavior.

Reference

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 162-164.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.

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